The last thing Alan Ferron remembered was going to bed one night last March and waking up a month later in an intensive care unit.
he 36-year-old father-of-one from Kiltipper, Dublin, recalled waking up in the dark and asking himself “where the hell am I?”
He learned to his horror that not only was he in the hospital after suffering two heart attacks, he had actually died.
“The nurse said to me ‘you were dead’,” he said of his heart stopping for almost an hour.
He later learned that the pressure he felt on his chest – like someone sitting on top of him – was the start of a cardiac arrest.
“My girlfriend rushed me to the hospital, and when I got there, I collapsed on the floor and went into cardiac arrest. After being revived, I had another cardiac arrest, and was then fitted with a stent.”
His diagnosis of heart failure was shocking but not surprising. His grandfather, an uncle and his younger brother Christopher – who tragically died of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome in February at just 25 – all suffered from heart disease.
Yet Alan said he didn’t fit the stereotype of a candidate for heart disease. He never smoked, ran an hour a day, swam, cycled, lifted weights, went to spinning classes and was in the midst of qualifying as a fitness instructor when he collapsed.
Fortunately, his medical team was able to manage his condition and he now takes around 18 tablets a day to control the massive damage to his heart which now functions at just 25pc capacity.
But he considers himself lucky to be alive and has made changes to his lifestyle to prevent another heart attack.
“I need to be careful – if I’m leaving the house I usually need to rest beforehand, as the fatigue can hit you hard.
“I exercise regularly, either in the gym, or walking or cycling and I take medication each day and monitor the amount of fluid I drink.”
He also had an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) implanted in his chest. The small electrical device monitors the heartbeat and restores it to normal if it detects an abnormal rhythm, which he says gives him “great peace of mind”.
Despite his ordeal, he managed to qualify as a fitness instructor and is hoping to get back to work in the coming months.
But in the meantime, he is urging others to pay attention to any symptoms – no matter how seemingly trivial – that could signal an impending heart attack or heart disease.
He dismissed what he called “small little things that I know now were symptoms (of heart disease)”, including excessive sweating from minor exertion and feeling faint and light-headed.
He is also encouraging others who have been diagnosed with heart failure to be aware of the symptoms of heart failure and engage with the Irish Heart Foundation’s Heart Support Network – a private Facebook group for those living with the condition.
“I found it very helpful when I came out of the hospital initially – everything was new to me so it was nice to hear from and read about people who had gone through the same thing as me.
“It helped me understand that it’s not all doom and gloom, and it helped to get me back on my feet – a great help at a time when I needed it.
“I would definitely encourage people to engage with the supports, to talk it through and not to bottle things up.”
The Irish Heart Foundation said that while heart failure can sound frightening, it is important that patients understand their heart is not about to stop.
“Heart failure describes a heart that is not working as well as it should and can affect people of any age,” said Dr Angie Brown, the Irish Heart Foundation’s medical director.
“It occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood around the body, because the walls of the heart have become too weak or too stiff to work properly. It is estimated that 90,000 people live with the condition in Ireland.
“The most common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, especially with activity or when lying flat, swollen feet, ankles or abdomen, weight gain over a short period of time.
“Others may include loss of appetite, dizziness or near fainting episodes, rapid heartbeat, changes in mood or a reduced ability to exercise.
“Symptoms like these happen when your heart is not pumping blood around the body efficiently, allowing excess fluid to pool in your lungs and elsewhere in your body, most usually your feet and ankles.
“However, it’s important to note that heart failure can be prevented. Reducing your risk factors for heart disease will help prevent heart failure, such as not smoking, controlling high blood pressure, eating healthy food, maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active and moderate drinking.
“Heart failure generally responds very well to a combination of medicines and lifestyle changes and some people may need operations, pacemakers or similar devices. With modern treatment, people with heart failure can lead long, quality lives,” she said.